Bush White House Requests A $43M Decrease In Ctr Funding

The US White House.
Nils Boemer/Bellona

Publish date: March 27, 2006

Written by: Charles Digges

The Bush White House has handed down a significantly reduced budget request for fiscal year 2007 for the Department of Defense’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programme for securing nuclear weapons materials in Russia, proposing an overall 10 percent cut in funding.

The White House request for CTR in fiscal year 2007 is $372.2m versus the $415.5m it requested last year, representing a decrease of $43m. The Budget request has yet to come before US Congress for approval.

Analysts have said that the downward spiral in CTR funding will likely continue as many of CTR’s projects near the end of their projected terms.

While some projects run by CTR will be receiving a boost in the 2007 budget request, many—like warhead security— are also being drained as their project terms reach expiration.

Nonetheless, analysts with the Russian-America Nuclear Security Advisory Council (RANSAC) indicated in their break down of the budget, that: “It is increasingly clear that the CTR budget is likely to decline dramatically in coming years as major projects wrap up, and that Russia will be a decreasing focus of the future of CTR.”

CTR expansion outside of Russia
Indeed, the past two CTR budgets have included some $40m to $50m for nuclear security projects undertaken outside Russia and the former Soviet republics. Senator Richard Lugar, who with former Senator Sam Nunn, wrote the Nunn-Lugar act, which is the foundation of the CTR programme, has long expressed his desire to translate lessons learned in Russia to other states posing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threats.

Some of the budget highlights pointed out in RANSAC’s analysis include a reduction from 2006’s $108m to $42.7m in 2007 in Russian chemical weapons destruction; a $13m increase from 2006’s $74.1m appropriation to improve security at Russia nuclear warhead storage sites; a reduction in Russian strategic arms elimination from $78.9m to $77m and a cut from 2006’s budget of $40.6m to $37.5m toward efforts to improve border security and interdict smuggling of WMD materials along the land and sea borders of selected non-Russian former Soviet republics.

Three trends in the CTR budget proposal from Bush
The RANSAC analysis identified three trends in the current White House budget proposal for 2007: “The declining centrality of WMD security and elimination in Russia, continuing difficulties in working cooperatively with Russian entities and a potentially significant contraction of the CTR budget in coming years.

Of the three primary Russia focused threat reduction programmes, two—chemical weapons destruction and warhead security—will begin to wind down significantly over the next two years as these projects meet their 2008 deadlines, the RANSAC report said. Eliminating Russian Strategic delivery systems—such as missile launchers and silos and ballistic submarines—will continue beyond 2008.

But RANSAC said that large-scale, long term and expensive projects, such as the Mayak Fissile Material Storage Facility (FMSF), will cease to be a fixture of further CTR projects in Russia.

Indeed, the success of the Mayak FMSF is debatable. Begun in 1993 to house some 200 tonnes of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and 50 tonnes of weapons grade plutonium, the 13-year-old project—which continues to evade deadlines for its completion—will hold only 25 tonnes of plutonium.

This decision was taken by Former Minister of Atomic Energy Alexander Rumyantsev who reasoned that Russia could make more money selling the HEU to the US-Russia “Megatons to Megawatts” programme, whereby the US buys down-blended Russian HEU for use in its commercial reactors.

Transparency issues
Key CTR projects continue to hit brick walls as a result of Russian disorganisation, and a lack of transparency and information, RANSAC found. These problems, said the analysis, range from the small number of qualified Russian subcontractors, incomplete information provided by Russian government officials about the location of CTR purchased equipment, to the absence of formal project implementation agreements.

The case of the Mayak FMSF is a case in point illustrating the latter of these factors. To this day, no written agreement between the US and Russian governments exists that stipulated Russia will store any fissile material there at all—an oversight that Rumynatsev was able to exploit.

RANSAC said that these obstacles pose risks to timely programme completion and drive CTR to focus its priorities and resources on non-proliferation opportunities in the non-Russian former Soviet repubics.

These two trends, said RANSAC, could lead to budget cuts in the CTR programme as large as $100m, depleting its financial resources to the record lows the programme experienced in the 1990s. What is left of the CTR budget would then be spent on projects that do not involve Russia, in RANSAC’s analysis.

Questions of how CTR knowledge will be preserved
The RANSAC analysis raised the question of how the US government plans to “transition” WMD threat reduction programmes as work in Russia declines, US plans for preserving its accumulated threat reduction expertise, reviewing the lessons it has learned and applying them to future WMD threats.